FEBRUARY 1, 2024: RECENT Sydney winner Sneaky Paige has headed south of the border to chase black type in Melbourne. 

Leading Hawkesbury trainer Brad Widdup accepted with the mare in both the Benchmark 88 Handicap (1200m) at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday, and Group 3 Geoffrey Bellmaine Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield.

And he has been able to snare Melbourne’s top jockey Damian Lane to ride her.

With 56 city winners already in the first half of the season (and 86 overall), Lane is a clear leader in the Melbourne jockeys’ premiership.

“Sneaky Paige has drawn the outside in a field of 10, but it’s a set weights and penalties race for mares four-year-old and upwards carrying black type, so it’s worth a crack,” Brad said today.

“She has trained on really well since winning at Rosehill on January 20. I’m very happy with her.”

Sneaky Paige has raced once previously in Melbourne when prepared by the now Hong Kong-based Mark Newnham. She ran third at $41 to Asfoora in the Group 3 Begonia Belle (1100m) at Flemington in October 2022 during the Melbourne Cup carnival.

Whilst that race was run along the straight, Brad has given the five-year-old mare valuable experience working the reverse way at Hawkesbury.

“We are able to work our horses the Melbourne way on Thursday mornings, and she has had a couple of gallops and handled them well,” he said.

Sneaky Paige won her first race since being transferred to Brad when she defeated Meritable and hotpot Time To Boogie in a Benchmark 88 Handicap (1200m) at Rosehill a fortnight ago at $19; her fifth career success.

Meanwhile, Brad clinched his fifth winner of the season when Owen County scored at Gosford today.

Owen County ($4.40) appreciated both a gear change and a patient Tommy Berry ride in easily upsetting odds-on favorite Fleet Commander ($1.50) in the Benchmark 64 Handicap (2100m) at only his fifth start since joining Widdup’s team.

“I took blinkers off and put a nose roll on him as he has gone a bit keenly in the last couple of runs,” Widdup said.

“He has always shown ability, and winning so well getting to 2100m for the first time was very encouraging.”

Owen County, a four-year-old by Dundeel, is the last foal of the now retired mare Alleged Encounter.

The gelding’s first two victories as a two-year-old were both on heavy tracks, but the “Good 4” rating at Gosford didn’t present any problem, and neither did the longest distance he has attempted so far.

Brad is planning to accept with both Arts Alive and Bella Khadijah for Saturday week’s $2m Inglis Millennium (1100m) at Randwick, but won’t know if they will secure starts until the field is finalised on Tuesday morning.

Snitzel filly Arts Alive has raced twice for a debut second at Warwick Farm, whilst Pierata filly Bella Khadijah was an excellent debut third at $151 at Randwick last Saturday.

Sixteen two-year-olds can start in the rich feature for eligible Inglis graduates.